As part of the Entrepreneurship Speaker Series launched by the US embassy, a US entrepreneur made a presentation at the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the ‘Dos and don’ts of starting a business’ and the unmistakable conclusion was that the best way to nudge development and tackling unemployment among the youth was to promote the culture of entrepreneurship among them. What was suggested was surely a proven prescription for embarking on the path of development.

An incisive appraisal of the developed countries reveals that their phenomenal economic growth was propelled by entrepreneurship, which is rightly regarded as a key to economic prosperity. Entrepreneurship is the capacity and willingness to start a new business venture and the hallmark of entrepreneurial spirit is innovation and risk taking. Countries like USA, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Taiwan are quintessential of the role that entrepreneurship can play in the economic development of a country and therefore are role models for other nations aspiring to achieve self-sustained growth in the ever increasing competitive global market.

To promote entrepreneurship it is important that the people with innovative ideas and skills have access to the vital entrepreneurial resources like money, talent and know-how to initiate new business, especially small and medium size enterprises which are less volatile and more stable than the big and mega industrial ventures due to their ability to provide bulk of the jobs in a country. One of the major objectives of the governments and its economic managers is to ensure full employment in the country or trying to ensure the creations of maximum job opportunities for the ever growing labour force. But the fact remains that the governments can only provide an enabling environment to spur economic activity that leads to creation of more jobs in the private sector.

In Pakistan also the government employs only 7-8% of the labour force. So like all other nations the only option available to it is to propel economic activity in the private sector through encouraging entrepreneurship in regards to the establishment of small and medium size business and industry by making available necessary resources and technical know-how to the youth entering the labour market.

The PML-N government, recognising the importance of small and medium size industries and business, creation of self-employment opportunities for the youth in the economic development of the country and learning from past experience, took a step in the right direction by launching Prime Minister’s Youth Programme in September 2013. The package comprised a Youth Business Loan Scheme, Youth Skill Development Programme, Youth Training Programme, Programme, Provision of laptops for talented students, Interest Free loan Scheme and Fee Re-imbursement Scheme for less developed areas. These initiatives were designed to create a culture of entrepreneurship by making available all the required ingredients to the youth for starting their own business and enhancing their technical know-how and skills for gainful employment in different sectors of the economy. The defined objective of this package was: “Enabling youth and poor segments of population to get good opportunities of employment, economic empowerment, acquiring skills needed for gainful employment, spreading use of computers and imparting on the job training for young graduates to improve probability of getting a productive job.”

The major flagship initiative of the package was the Youth Business Loan Scheme. National Bank of Pakistan and Women Development Bank were entrusted with the responsibility to disburse these loans amounting up to two million, ensuring gender equality. Later most of the private banks including Sind Bank, MCB, Habib Metropolitan Bank and Soneri Bank etc also joined the scheme. The step to advance these loans through banks was taken in the light of the experience of the past, to ensure transparency and eliminating prospects of political interference. Another very important aspect of the scheme was that the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) carried out pre-feasibility studies as guidelines for prospective borrowers. These studies provided a general understanding of the proposed business and were meant to promote entrepreneurial culture in the country as they were structured like a business plan.

An incisive look on all these programmes since their inception till date reveals that they have been pursued with utmost commitment by the concerned agencies. Under the Youth Business Loan Scheme loans amounting to Rs.2,512,693 million have so far been disbursed among 17,861 individuals .To avoid delays in the processing of loans, balloting has been replaced by the existing loan processing procedures.

The HEC has reimbursed fees to 152798 the poor students up to March 2017 since its inception in 2013 under the fee reimbursement scheme. The number of new students registered for the scheme stands at 28592. An amount of Rs. 634,983,533 has been released to different universities for the year 2016-17.

Through the interest free loan scheme Rs.6110 millions have been given to 272,092 individuals. The number of laptops distributed among students is 188,188. Reportedly another consignment of 89,499 laptops has been delivered to different universities for distribution among students. The Scheme is not being executed in isolation. It is supplemented by other initiatives like Smart University project wherein all universities have availability of WiFi throughout the Campus; Smart Class project wherein students can attend and study virtually, and have access to all the information being taught in the classroom; Smart Assessment project, Education TV and HEC Cloud data center etc.

According to the official sources under the Youth Skill Development Programme, 24,934 students graduated in the first phase, 20,392 in the second phase and in the third phase 23,880 have already completed their training courses while 25252 are still under training. The government has made available an amount of Rs.4,608 million for the three phases. Similarly under the Youth Training Scheme 49,637 have been provided internship with different government departments and entities. This scheme is for master degree and associate diploma holders who are paid a stipend of Rs.12,000 during their one year internship.

As is evident all the foregoing initiatives launched by the government have been pursued with uncompromising commitment and the progress on them so far has been indeed very encouraging. The youth are the future of the country. Engaging them in productive pursuits and self-employment avenues is the best insurance against poverty and an indispensable guarantee for economic prosperity. The country can move forward only when there are greater employment opportunities in the private sector. Pakistani youth are around 35-40% of the total population and any move that ensures and guarantees their gainful employment is bound to accelerate the process of economic progress due to its multiplier effect besides enhancing tax revenues of the government that this newly initiated economic activity will generate.

The number of laptops distributed among students is 188,188. Reportedly another consignment of 89,499 laptops has been delivered to different universities for distribution among students.